Double Down Strategy: Soft 18

Knowing when to double down is an important part of blackjack basic strategy and doing it correctly can help you take advantage of your good hands and make up for the losses on your bad hands. The strategy is different depending on what hand you have and what cards the dealer shows, though. Here is what to do if you have a soft 18 with your first two cards (ace, seven).

If you are dealt a soft 18, you should double down if the dealer shows a three through a six as an up card. If the dealer shows a two, seven or eight, you should stand. If the dealer shows anything else (9, 10, ace), you should hit.

When trying to understand why you would make these decisions, keep in mind that blackjack basic strategy takes into account that there are more cards with a value of 10 than any other value. Therefore, it is playing the odds to plan on the drawing a 10 and the dealer having a 10 in the hole.

The reason you should double down if the dealer shows a three through a six is that, assuming a 10 in the hole, the dealer is likely to have a 13-16, which are stiff hands. With those hands, the dealer is likely to bust. How likely? Well, let’s look at it one hand at a time.

If the dealer has a hard 13, only five cards (4, 5, 6, 7, 8 ) will help his hand, five cards (9, 10, J, Q, K) will bust him and three cards (ace, 2, 3) will leave him with another stiff hand (14-16). If the dealer has a hard 14, only five cards (3, 4, 5, 6, 7) will improve his hand, six cards (8, 9, 10, J, Q, K) will bust him and two cards (ace, 2) will leave him with another stiff hand (15-16). If the dealer has a hard 15, only five cards (2, 3, 4, 5, 6) will improve his hand, seven cards (7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K) will make him bust and one card (ace) will leave him with another stiff hand (16). Finally, if the dealer has a hard 16, only five cards (ace, 2, 3, 4, 5) will improve his hand, while eight cards (6, 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K) will bust him. Therefore, each of those hands has 8/13 odds that the dealer will either bust or draw another stiff hand, where he again has to draw against 8/13 odds.

The reason you hit if the dealer has a 9, 10 or ace is that you have to assume that the dealer has a good chance of having a 19-21. Each of those hands beats your hand of 18. You never hit a hard 18 because of the high likelihood of busting, but hitting a soft 18 is risk-free because you can’t bust.

If the dealer shows a seven or eight, there is a good chance that he has a hand that is lower than your hand of 18. If the dealer shows a seven, no hole card can give the dealer a hand that will beat your 18. Only an ace in the hole can tie you. If the dealer has a 10 (10, J, Q, K) in the hole then you beat his 17. Again, due to the high likelihood of a 10, it is best to stand pat with your 18. If the dealer shows an eight, only an ace in the hole can beat you and a 10 in the hole can tie you. Everything else gives him a lower hand. For that reason, it’s not worth hitting and possibly lowering the value of your hand.

If the dealer shows a two, you have to assume a high probability of him having a 12. If the dealer has a hard 12, he has to hit. Once he hits, only three cards (7, 8, 9) can beat your hand of 18, four cards (10, J, Q, K) will cause him to bust, and five cards cards (ace, 2, 3, 4, 5) that will give him a hand lower than yours. Because the odds are against the dealer beating your 18 but not great that he will bust, you don’t want to draw another card. It is best to stand in this situation.

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